Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forgiven Sins, Restored Fellowship (Easter, Day 17)

It is a commonplace to point out the contrast between Peter's triple denial and Jesus's triple restoration in the form of the question, Do you love me? What I'm thinking about today is the cosmic context in which this very personal event takes place: i.e., that Peter denies Jesus during his passion, and that Jesus restores Peter during the forty days. It seems to me that this suggestions something about the meaning of the cross-and-resurrection as the one twofold event of God's reconciliation of the world to himself.

It seems to me that both the words of Jesus ("forgive them for they know not what they do" etc.) and the teachings of the apostles ("he died for our sins" etc.) confirms the notion that forgiveness was actualized in the cross of Christ. As a fan of the resurrection, I understand the temptation of those who might recoil from this cross-centered "atonement" theory. But it seems to make sense to me, so I'm not going to give up on it just yet.

Hence the sin of Peter, his denial, is in a certain sense already forgiven on the cross. But he doesn't know it yet, and so it does not yet make a difference in his life.

For what we do not yet have in the cross of Christ is a restored fellowship with God. The barrier to fellowship, i.e., our sin, has been removed. Hence the cross is the decisive event, the turning point in the story of God. But the aim or purpose of removing our iniquities is to welcome us into fellowship with God.

And this restoration takes place in Christ's resurrection.

Objectively, Jesus is our elder brother, the firstborn from the dead, whom the Father has welcomed into eternal living fellowship by raising him from the dead. Subjectively, Jesus comes to his own, breaks bread with them, and welcomes them into his fellowship so and also into fellowship with his eternal Father. He comes to Peter, puts the question of love to him, and commissions him for his missionary task. He restores fellowship with Peter, and sends him to the ends of the earth as an ambassador of the reconciliation achieved in the cross-and-resurrection of Jesus.

So, in a word, God forgives our sins in the cross of Christ and restores us to fellowship in the resurrection of Christ.

Perhaps too clean and simple. But I think that gets at least some of what needs to be said about the good news of the forty days!

Any thoughts?


π² said...

Clean and simple is good. What if Jesus didn't rise? Our sins would be forgiven on the cross, and then Jesus goes to heaven. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples and they figure out, "He was our Paassover lamb! We're forgiven!" They now go to share with others, and they are faced with questions that they can't be sure of the answer. Passover lambs are sacraficed every year, how long does Jesus' blood last? Only you disciples celebrated the Passover with Jesus, so are only your sins forgiven? The resurrection allows us to know that God has reconciled the world to himself. Just as the angels moving the tomb stone allowed us to know that Jesus was already raised. They didn't let Jesus out, they let the disciples in on what had happened. Over the next 40 days, Jesus continues to "let them in" on what has happened.

JohnLDrury said...

There are some great thoughts, Paul! The stuff about the angels letting us know that Jesus was already raised was especially good!

Two things come to mind, riffing off your thoughts:

(1) The bit about how long his blood will last makes me think of Hebrews, which speaks of Christ's permanent sacrifice in the HEAVENLY tabernacle, and speaks of Christ's resurrection in such a way that it seems to be the event that renders his sacrifice a once-for-all sort of thing. That way of putting it can be taking too far, but there's something important there.

(2) I'm not terrible comfortable with the notion that Jesus would have "gone to heaven" if he died but was not raised, for scripture (esp. 2 Pet 3) and the Creed attest that he descended into the place of the dead, to hades, even "hell," whereas his ascension into heaven occurs AFTER his resurrection. So the whole "die and go to heaven" bit doesn't seem to apply to Jesus. I also don't think it applies to us in so simple a way as we usually think, at least to the extent that such a way of speaking seems to render resurrection of the body superfluous. So I'm not so sure your counterfactual conditional claim. I know, I know, just an experiment. But it was an experiment that yielded insights, so worthy of reflection and precision as far as possible. Anyways. Just some thoughts. Thanks for continually stopping by!

π² said...

Honestly, I wasn't comfortable with "goes to heaven" either, but on the fly I couldn't think of where else his spirit would go. The body would be in the tomb. I suppose I could have gone old school and said he went to Sheol. I suppose it's another problem that the resurrection fixes for us. We don't have to speculate as to where the Son is.

Lloyd said...

I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God bless, Lloyd

N Hitchcock said...

John, greetings from South Dakota. Christina and I are just now settling into summer after a year that held lots of new preps and a new baby girl.

So yes, I'm one of the guys who still chafes against anything approximating crucicentric theology; your distinction, to me at least, still seems to diminish Easter. What is forgiveness if not the substance of restored relationship? If forgiveness comes properly on Good Friday, then resurrection from the dead begins to feel like an epiphenomenal side effect.

But I don't want to be unsympathetic. The problem, as I see it, has to do with two different atonement schemes, each one in the NT. The first, the substitutionary scheme, describes our elevation even as Jesus goes to His death. He is abandoned by the Father at Golgotha; at the same moment we are forgiven. He descends to hell; we are raised to heaven. The second model, however, the representative scheme, understands Jesus and the elect moving the same direction, undergoing the same conditions. Jesus is abandoned at the cross, and so are we. Jesus is buried in death, and so are we. In this latter model, the cross effects nothing in and of itself. It is a means to an end, an end reached only on that blessed Sunday. Good Friday is sheer tragedy in and as such. Everything - including forgiveness - comes about only at Easter.

I too am working out dozens of knots from my system. But I'm choosing to stress the second model until something better arises.

Anonymous said...

I liked it so much and very interesting, too! Thanks for sharing the experience.
Cheap Flights to Shenyang
Flights to Shenyang
Shenyang Flights